what you should be asking your it partner

What You Should Be Asking Your IT Partner

You are about to begin a custom software development project.

You have identified several companies with the required technical expertise. Now, you need to identify the firm that offers the best chance of project success.

The best way to identify that firm is by posing a series of questions to each competing company and determining who has the best answers. The highest probability of success is not determined by the elegance or sophistication of the software. It is determined by the use of repeatable methods, defining how the project will be completed. The following 7 questions should provide a window into each competitor’s relative chance of success.

1. Who owns the work products that result from the project and how is that ownership documented?
You are looking for a “work-for-hire” contract, under which you retain unrestricted title and full ownership rights in the work products. The work products should include the complete source code to the system, as well as all technical and user documentation. These terms should be clearly defined in the contract. If it is not present, demand that it be included. If the vendor balks, walk away.

2. Will you be using any subcontractors or temporary staff on my project? 
You want a simple “no” response. You are best served by a company that relies on fulltime, salaried employees. This provides continuity of service over time.

3. What is your approach to project management?
The vendor should describe a project management methodology, including such features as:

  • A documented plan, identifying all tasks, milestones, and target dates
  • A rigorous change management process
  • A risk management process, including a problem/issue escalation procedure
  • An acceptance process
  • Scheduled review meetings
  • Defined lines of authority, on both sides of the table

It is extremely important for the company to embrace a structured approach to the project. Otherwise, they’re “winging it.” Those projects rarely succeed.

4. Who will manage the project and can I meet that individual before startup?
For projects with an immediate start date, the vendor should be able to identify one or two experienced project managers. The candidate must have experience in projects similar to yours in size, scope, and complexity. An interview is a must.

5. What happens if something changes on the project?
The vendor should describe a practical change management process, including:

  • The initiation of a written change request
  • The development of a cost and time estimate for the change, including impact on the project schedule
  • A formal approval process, following your standard procedures for any purchase or expenditure

6. How will you keep me informed about project status?
The vendor should describe regularly scheduled (weekly, biweekly, monthly) status meetings and a pre-formatted status report.

7. Describe your quality assurance methodology?
The vendor QA program should include multiple levels of review by peers and supervisors for each of the project deliverables.

By carefully considering each vendor’s answers to these questions, it should be relatively easily to identify the firm that provides the best chance of success on your software project. That’s the firm whom you’ll want as your long-term IT partner.

Al Moore

Al Moore is one of the founders and the former president of Marathon Consulting, LLC in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He shares the insights gained during forty years of information technology management and consulting. In addition to his ten-plus years of service to Marathon, former employers and clients include ITT, Metro Information Services, Keane Inc., Busch Corporation, Sentara Health Systems, Stihl, Weyerhaeuser, and various municipalities throughout the region. He resides in Virginia Beach with his wife, Norma.

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